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Eating Our Own Dogfood

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In the software industry, “eating your own dogfood” is an expression for a practice in which the people in a company themselves use the products they make and sell. It is a good way for them to discover usability problems that you only notice when you actually use a product instead of merely testing it with some standard tests.
In movements on the revolutionary left there is a notion that the movement should prefigure the society aimed at. If that society is to be inclusive, democratic, egalitarian and free of all kinds of discrimination, then so should the movement be. In a way, this is like eating your own dog food.
I’ve always felt that this is a good practice to follow. Let authoritarian movements have authoritarian leaders, but if you are an organization advocating a radical form of democracy, you should engage in a radically democratic praxis yourself.
IOPS aims at a participatory democracy for all sectors of society, and now tries to function internally based on such principles. We are eating our own dogfood. But, as of yet, the results are not encouraging. Society would not be able to function democratically with such a low participation level. Control would very soon end up in the hands of a few who are interested more in power than in democracy. So what is going on? Does this spell a usability problem with the participatory praxis we recommend?

Discussion 22 Comments

  • Peter Lach-Newinsky 28th Nov 2016

    Hi Lambert, thanks for the blog. I guess it is re-inviting discussion on the old (since c. 2014) question of why IOPS has basically failed as a participatory org advocating for a participatory society? Rod, Ashim and others have recently provided (in other threads) a good list of conjectures about possible reasons for lack of real participation. Probably not much point in going over those again.

    Our Common Website project, Liquid Solidarity and other online ventures I've heard about (e.g. in Berlin) trying to provide online forums for dialogue among activists - all have also basically failed due to lack of real participation or passionate interest.

    First step for further dialogue among the small remaining number of individuals (5? 10? 20?) might be to acknowledge these failures as simple objective facts. I think we can go further and conclude that there simply does not seem to be a massive need for sites such as these at this point in time. One could also infer that the mass global consciousness of the need for a massive participatory coming together, dialogue, interchange, connecting of dots, is simply not there.

    The next question might then be can and should IOPS continue in quasi-hibernation mode, as a potential seed as it were, until such time as such a pressing need for global participatory dialogue may possibly arise and push through the soil of disconnection and single issues?

    • Lambert Meertens 29th Nov 2016

      Until recently, IOPS, while advocating for a participatory society, was itself not at all a participatory organization. The interim construction, although well-intended, was about as undemocratic as you can get. My personal favourite for explaining the deflating of the initial enthusiasm for IOPS, like a leaking balloon, is the fiasco of the subsequent polls with unrealistic preconditions for an indefinitely postponed advent, spelling out the sclerotic nature of the interim governance construction, however well intended.

      Many of the items on Rod’s list (which can be found here) probably play a role, although some are better for explaining why activists wouldn’t join IOPS in the first place than why they do not participate here. Especially for members who joined recently. And as long as the list may be, I don’t feel it can explain the almost total absence of participation. That also holds for an explanation by lack of a mass global consciousness and need for sites such as this. That would go a long way towards explaining why we don’t have 500,000 members and 10,000 active participants, but not what we see. So I have the feeling we’re somehow missing the main reason, but what is it? Weariness? In due time we should investigate this in more depth, but doing research that can produce meaningful results is not a simple exercise.

      In any case, of course we should keep plodding on, while remaining open to ideas for new approaches. What else? As far as I’m concerned, giving up is not an option.

  • Bat Chainpuller 29th Nov 2016

    Yeah,it seems things these kinds of things are useless really. People prefer facebook, twitter, or whatever. These things are cultish as well. People don't like that stuff. And it's on the net. People don't want to be all over the net. And it's about being "on the ground", not being "in virtual space". I'm a "clicktivist". You gotta get out and join something real, with real people, all local and stuff.

    But then there are all these other logistical problems. But that's OK. We can handle those. That's what "organise" means. It means "do something real" not that virtual shit. Anything. Don't worry too much about what it is, just organise something like a radical picnic or whatever. Drop leaflets in local stores, laundries or letter boxes. The leaflets are real. Like Vincent Emanuele driving in a car to a meeting. Doing the meeting and then driving home. That's real. OFS is real. They helped with Occupy, which also was real. They build strong relations with other real groups and do real shit that actually changes stuff. IOPS is faux revolution. I'm a faux revolutionary, although I never said I was a real one. I was just some inexperienced fuckwit who got suckered into joining this thing by more experienced dudes, some of who wrote testimonials, and then found myself alone as everyone else pissed off because we, boo hoo, couldn't meet the, boo hoo, pre...boo...con...hoo...ditions and that's, boo hoo, what mattered and so there's, boo hoo, nothing else that this site could be, boo hoo, put to good, boo hoo, use for so we're all, boo hoo, moving on to other, boo hoo, things with a positive outlook and all, no kore crying, to new horizons and new organisations and stuff...over there...yes, that's where it's at now...over there...certainly not here, now, with all these deluded lost souls who think they can resurrect the dead. Huh! Hilarious. Certainly not with them.

    Michael says the same as Peter. We have to conclude it wasn't the right time, or isn't needed now. The facts. I'm not sure I buy that, it feels weird to me. But what do I know. Facts is facts and they's the facts brothers.

    Electoral politics is where it's at man. Still. Today. That's the go. Get involved in your local branch. Unions man. Them's the things to join. Go to the meetings and make a difference. Small clandestine anarchist groups. They're all around you you just can't see them, that's the thing. That's the real scene. Get a stall at the anarchist bookstore. That's what ya do. Simplicity. Voluntary simplicity. Ring Samual Alexander today. Read his books. That's more real. Doing It Ourselves. Permaculture parties and barbecues. Public Interests Not Corporate Interests, that's where it's at. Joe Toscano, here in Melbourne. Real actions all planned during work hours and days. Political orgs like Our Revolution in the States. That'll get real shit done. All the real anarchists, not virtual ones, will get in there and change it up, move it in the right direction, man, prefigurement man, that's real man, the real thing.

    Aside from my sarcasm and cynicism, I think it has a lot to do with no-one, and I mean no-one, having any real clue, with an emphasis on the word real, as to what we are actually fighting, fighting not really being the right word, for. No idea. No-one has a clue. There is no glue. Never has been. Someone can commit to something specific like a school crossing but if, after winning the crossing, someone then says lets go after state repression, watch everyone run for the hills. You can get people to agree that killing one another is bad and that loving one another is good but beyond that it's a shit fight. Jesus, you can't get people agreeing to whether markets are worthy or not, and many who participated in Occupy weren't even necessarily anti-capitalists. No-one even knows anymore what that really means or if it's a good thing. It sounds cultish too, to be anti-capitalist.

    Now I see all this Fidel stuff. Fidel, a REAL revolutionary. Guns and all. George Lakey, a REAL revolutionary writing about the wonders of social democracy and Viking Economics.

    Real or virtual. Everyone always leans towards the REAL.

    Sing it then phase the shit out of it.

  • Bat Chainpuller 29th Nov 2016

    All this stuff on Fidel and Cuba made me think maybe IOPS could become like a CDR (sounds like something a stockbroker would dream up!) . Committee for the Defense of the Revolution/Reformation/Rejigging or whatever it is. A little committee but not nasty or anything, like rounding up counterrevolutionaries and stuff. Just like a cheer squad. That's some positive Panda stuff right there. Yes, Yes, Eye, Oh, Pee, Ess!

    • Lambert Meertens 29th Nov 2016

      What, no rounding up? I’m already working on a list, for, you know, when.

    • Bat Chainpuller 29th Nov 2016

      Maybe that could be a job for an [H]andy Bot. So we don't have to get our hands dirty!

  • Claire Bruhn 29th Nov 2016

    This all reminds me of the artist Piero Manzoni, who canned his own excrement and sold it, called it Artist's Shit. The man sold his own feces and he was a successful artist. So we live in this world now, and we have for a while. People will literally buy shit if you are selling it. So why don't people buy the message of iops, or they don't seem to, when it clearly isn't a piece of canned shit but is something more lovely? Lambert, you make an excellent suggestion about eating our own dog food.

    • Lambert Meertens 29th Nov 2016

      Re Manzoni, see this article from the Grauniad: Merde d'artiste: not exactly what it says on the tin. I bet the artist laughed all the way to the bank.

      These day, bullshit is much in demand. ♪ There’s no shit like bullshit! ♫

    • Peter Lach-Newinsky 30th Nov 2016

      Hi Claire, I take your point, but 'buying the message of IOPS' might be precisely the problem.

      Buy, sell, message as commodity to be consumed and 'liked' or 'followed'...rather than a bunch of people becoming active because the NEED to, because otherwise they wouldn't be true to themselves, to their own basic values (morals)regarding justice/injustice, survival/unsustainability, equality/inequality, alienation/cooperation, isolation/solidarity etc etc.

      In which latter case they don't need to 'buy' anything, to be told anything, to be organized into anything, but will ACT as they see appropriate at this point in time according to their personal needs and conditions...

      And at this point in time IOPS does not seem to be where many see it's at.

  • Bat Chainpuller 30th Nov 2016

    It's a website. A virtual place that was meant initially to service active chapters. It's an interesting conundrum. I don't mind the idea of "buying into" a message, but it can take time and may feel a little contrived doing so. I think Peter has a point as well, but there are also problems or limitations with the approach he sketches. And the "Left" at large has absolutely no idea what it is. What the "we" is, or the "our" nor how to intwine or collaborate in a constructive way on a large scale. None. But there are plenty of people writing about stuff. The "Left" does not know how to do big. Big is too hard and really really problematic. Castro did it with guns and shit. Old school.

    The right has no problem with big. It likes to duke it out in the market place. Competition good. Meritocracy good. Bargaining power good. Wealth and money very good. Inequality is natural. It breeds incentive. Hierarchy good. It's vision is clear. It's position is clear and the institutions it beleves in sort the wheat from the chaff. End of story. Stop your whining. You're a natural born loser, so get over it.

    By comparison, the "Left" has no idea as to what institutional structures it wants or are best. In fact, I don't even think most of it, the "Left", thinks about that stuff clearly at all, if ever. It tends towards what Peter says. Small, local, regional maybe, battles around immediate things, personal needs and possibilities with the hope that out of that will grow something larger and gain momentum. But usually internal bickering and the nitty gritty gets in the way and rips things apart. There's no glue.

    Personally, I think it's because people like markets!

    And again, IOPS is just a website being used a bit more now than a year ago, by a tiny few.

  • Rod 1st Dec 2016

    Participatory democracy seems a lot harder to do than authoritarian rule. That may be why we see so little of it, except on the small scale. I'm not really surprised by the way things have been going the last couple of months. It doesn't mean IOPS is doomed to fail. But we need to learn how to turn theory into practice. And even the theory seems quite vague and unclear.

    It would be good to get a sense of what kind of things the active members want to work towards in the next year. Then we can see if IOPS can be of assistance in those goals. For me, I'm interested in finding ways to live more frugally and self-sufficient, so I can ween myself off my dependency on this economy. So I'll be looking for resources on that front. If others are also interested we could team up. Besides that I want to learn web development as a new career path. I'll be quitting my current job in a few weeks time and I'll be spending a few months trying to learn new skills. I can do some development on the IOPS website to try to put the learned theory into practice. I'm also interested in collecting resources that could help to see the big picture more clearly and put them in an easy to digest format, for instance using infographics.

  • fred curran 1st Dec 2016

    I think I agree with everything everyone has said. You all are some bad mothers....

    I think Peter and Rod's points might kind of tie all of it together.

    Touching base and seeing where we are at, simultaneous to continuing on this process of establishing the necessary roles for a self managed, participatory organization, and society by extension.

    What am I looking for.... what do I want to work toward....

    I don't know.. For now helping you all get your shit out into the world would make me happy. I just like talking to people about things, revolutionary things.

    Weening myself off of the death cult economy wouldn't be too bad.

    Maybe building a global network of mixed community groups, that work together with other groups closest to them and expanding out into a web covering the planet. A strong enough, sustainable, self sufficient enough network that it could challenge power effectively. Strong enough to defend the 'victories' the network achieves. A diverse enough array of groups that wonderful spontaneous organic new groups emerge, and maybe humanity builds a proper type one civilization and travels into space totally free.

    Or something like that....

    • Bat Chainpuller 1st Dec 2016

      I'm a bit like you Fred. Like to talk and wean myself off shit in doing so. Jeeping in contact with people, like those hear. I'm not fussed with disagreement and arguments, even if I myself get pissed and leave. I'll probably come back :).

      I like to spread stuff. I send shit off now and then and harass people on radio or even at the NSP. Even Michael A. Not sure if he likes me at the moment. Probably sick of me! IOPS is good for that as I try to negotiate my political/economic beliefs around being a husband, dad with two beautiful daughters in their twenties who I think like me, six day a week wage slave (working for an old friend by the way, which does NOT cancel out Marx's notions of estranged and abstract labour I have noticed) and musician.

      If this place grew bigger, all the better.

    • Bat Chainpuller 1st Dec 2016

      "Keeping" in contact with those "here"...jesus!

  • Rod 1st Dec 2016

    Fred, I totally sympathize with your hopes of a future global network (minus the space travelling part). To make some steps towards that goal, it would be nice if IOPS (or any other organization) learned to succesfully combine online with on the ground activities and create a bit of synergy in the process.

    Bat, hats off for being able to combine IOPS with a 6-day work week. I wouldn't even be able to handle a 5-day work week anymore at the moment (hopefully that's a temporary problem). The effects of estranged labour seem to have grown over the years to a point where I can't ignore them anymore. That's partly a good thing I guess, as it forces me to learn a thing or two about taking care of myself that I should've learned a long time ago.

  • Peter Lach-Newinsky 3rd Dec 2016

    Totally with ya Fred, Rod, the Six-Day-War-Bat-Lazy-Lycan-James. And if ya all were around here I could probably supply ya with a few eggs, honey, heritage apples, mutton and the odd free poem.

  • fred curran 4th Dec 2016

    Regarding IOPS successfully combining online and on the ground activities...

    I think we have a lot of resources presently to do just that if that becomes a focus of our activities.

    There are thousands of groups who would love us to reach out to them, write about them, publicize them, who would love to be interviewed, featured, given an opportunity and a space to share their content, their activities, some of their plans, if they thought that doing so would correlate to them getting more publicity, support, etc. A lot of the 3500 ghost members are probably participating in a couple few hundred of these groups.

    The result of course would also be a website overflowing with original content, interesting relevant content, that correlates to on the ground groups and activities.

    So presently, when and where we do that we do not coordinate those efforts. Members are participating in tons of stuff, art is being made, pieces are being written, but we are not coordinating our efforts. I see some of it now and then here and there, but it is not very well coordinated. Several members have talked about things they are doing, and we ask them to write about it. Well they are doing it, so maybe we should write about it.

    We are not reaching out into the world humbly. We are asking people to come here, and do what we are doing the way we are doing it. But we need to be reaching out to other groups, established groups, small upstart groups, asking them if we can write something about their group for our website, and we should spread this content on every outlet we can, and attach it back to IOPS.

    Along with establishing this self managed society, we should begin to coordinate really deep outreach. By deep outreach I mean a lot of shit between the outreach and the outreached being brought into IOPS as a member, or any expectation of that. And it will happen organically, as the value of this effort and organizing is proven out.

    I think we have to attack this rather aggressively. If anyone is interested I would love to begin that coordination. See what we are interested in undertaking to do this and put something together for the coming year.

    • Lambert Meertens 5th Dec 2016

      When the common website project wrote to almost 300 activist groups worldwide, asking what they would like to see in a website offering a home to all, we got precisely three responses.

      If our website was drawing a large stream of visitors, I would tend to believe that many groups would like us to publicize them. I don’t know how many visitors we actually get, but it can’t be much – and most may be just by accident, spending just enough time to see they came to the wrong place for what they were seeking. Since most groups are local, the chance that a visitor is actually interested in a group that the site is putting in the spotlight at that moment is almost certainly negligeable. So I expect that from the viewpoint of these groups, spending energy on getting free publicity on our website will not be seen as a good investment.

      For now, I’m inclined to think it is better for us to direct our attention to making the website content more attractive to visitors.

    • fred curran 5th Dec 2016

      Yo Lambert, What's up,

      You make good points. I don't want to take away from any work being done to improve the content of the website but I think the right kind of coordinated outreach will get us good content and get us some more visitors.

      What if we could bump up that one percent return rate, changing our approach from asking them to do something to asking if we can do something for them?

      I think I could get something out to 5000 people using social media, running it for a few weeks. If we coordinate more broadly we could probably get something out to even more. Even with a one percent response rate, maybe we could get something going that way.

      I think people will be interested. And more so I think that a steady stream of groups being talked about, movements being covered, will draw in those people covered, those people participating in those movements, to see this as a resource that they could use.

      In this day and age of activism it doesn't seem like much is going on that isn't in solidarity with a general global movement for the bettering of the world. We can take a certain place in this evolution if we choose.

      Not to mention who we could reach out to in house. Within these walls there are a lot of activists who are members but otherwise have nothing to do with IOPS, who are regularly participating in actions and groups who are seeking to build networks and federate globally with other groups.

      As to why it doesn't happen in here, well for a long while it was made pretty clear that that was not what IOPS was for, there was outspoken resistance to such things and ideas. But I think if we give it a chance we will see a much better return on our investment than to wait for the right people to visit the site.

      Let me stress, for sure we need to make the content more attractive. Some things need to be tuned up, it could use a face lift and some rhyme and reason to it. But for all of its technological deficiencies it is a pretty awesome site.

    • Rod 6th Dec 2016

      Interesting ideas, Fred. It sounds like what you're proposing is that IOPS would become a hub that ties other groups together. A public place where they could meet, publicize and exchange ideas, while still having their own thing going. Sounds like a great idea. Not sure if IOPS in its current form would fit the bill though. It might need to transform into something a bit more neutral than it is now for other groups to be interested.

      Perhaps we could do some brainstorming on this in the brainstorm project Ashim was proposing.

    • Lambert Meertens 6th Dec 2016

      My main point was that I’m not so sure these groups will jump with joy if we feature them, what with the current prominence of our site being what it is. Well, I hope you are right and I am wrong.

      Still waiting for the stream of volunteers for being website content curators to line up...

  • Claire Bruhn 7th Dec 2016

    Fred, I think your ideas about out reach and bringing in other groups by being a platform for them is a great idea, but it's a few steps ahead of where we are right now. Maybe what you suggest along with brainstorming other ideas like this could be lead by the content curators? I think for now, we should focus on filling our in house roles and improving our own content so we are in a stronger and more organized position to bring in new comers.